Transexual Blues

Elephant Shelf at the Malt Shovel Tavern

11 May 2011

“Entertaining” was a phrase a friend of mine used to describe the Elephant Shelf gig at the Malt Shovel Tavern on May 11th. I thought he was being rather generous as I couldn’t find anything in the early stages of the set to elicit any commendation. But as the gig progressed I came to the opinion that it was a pretty fair summation, giving the bands somewhat theatrical persona and eclectic mix of material

Not having heard the band before, I had no idea what to expect. By the time I arrived at the venue, the pub was packed, and the band had already started their first set. As I waded through groups of people towards the bar, I was pleasantly surprised at the driving boogie-woogie sounds emanating from the back of the pub.

“Sounds good” I remarked to no one in particular. Someone nearby retorted something about a “gender bender”. A little bemused, I took a spare seat at one of the front row tables. Then I noticed something odd. Was that long-haired denim-clad lead guitarist/vocalist wearing makeup?

“He’s wearing makeup?” I called across to a friend, as if to confirm what I was seeing.

“Yes” he shouted in order to be heard over the frantic strains of the rock’n’roll number “In Trouble Again”. “And he’s wearing a woman’s top, women’s shoes, and women’s TIGHTS!”

I acknowledged my friend’s eagle-eyed observations with a thumbs up sign. Well, I could see that the singer was wearing a denim jacket and trousers, but he did look weird! He was obviously not youthful enough to be able to carry off the effeminate look like a young Bowie or Bolan. This was an altogether more serious statement of male femininity (if this be a valid expression?) and evoked the question “Could this band be really taken seriously as a blues outfit?”

The early numbers certainly sounded a little disjointed and unrehearsed, and it was difficult to find any noteworthy musicianship to spark the interest.

The drummer did capture my attention, however, but not for the obvious reason. His playing style was very unusual. He seemed to hold the sticks much too near the tip end, which gave very little recoil when struck. This was very apparent when he hit the hi-hat, which he did almost haphazardly using a kind of circular stroking motion, as one might turn the pedal of a bicycle.

His drum rolls were also amusing to watch. He seemed to approach each roll with a kind of hopeful trepidation, and once executed, seemed visibly relieved. And he had a somewhat unusual and amusing habit of verbalising his drumming as he played, as if this was acting as a guide to his playing.

But I dare say this would be rather irritating for any keen drummer in the audience hoping to acquire some new knowledge or drumming tips. I know of at least one such person who was so dismayed that he had already left even before I arrived.

The keyboard player put in a rather lame performance, but everybody comes to watch the guitarist. So who cares? And whilst there was little flair or technical skill in Vicky Martin’s guitar work, he displayed a passable level of musicianship.

As a result, what otherwise might have been a rather feeble and unconvincing show was rescued by the unusual and quirky line up, the extremely friendly vibe, the enthusiast singing and dancing of the Rosie on second vocals, and the guitar player’s unassuming and laid back approach to the music.

If I was to suggest that this was a kind of blues/boogie/rock’n’roll cabaret act, then you might appreciate my friends compendious summary. Entertaining? Well, yes!.


Vicky Martin – Vocals and guitar
Rosie Swan – Vocals
Diana Stone – Keyboards
Rob Charles – Bass
Terry McInerney – Drums



  1. Curious that you didn't comment on the violin playing?

    1. Must have been during my round! I do remember it vaguely, but it seemed to me at the time to be more of a side show which added a little bit of variation but not much of note to the evening's proceedings.

      Anyway, thanks for the reminder.